Securing A Hospital Campus

Protecting parking, pedestrians and entries to the campus facility

Security a hospital campus is very different from protecting a typical commercial building. Hospitals have many more access points, as well as hundreds-to thousands of patients and employees to protect in a facility operating 24/7. The COVID-19 pandemic has now highlighted the need to add access restrictions for both visitors and employees for any campus building.

These challenges point out the need for thoughtful planning and execution by the facility’s security department. Let’s take a look at some of the best security practices beginning with parking garages and moving into main facilities.

Parking Structures and Pedestrians

Parking lots and garages are the first stop for most people arriving at a hospital campus. Parking facilities are among the most dangerous areas of any campus, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). The most recent BJS report shows more than 7 percent of the country’s violent crimes and 11 percent of property crimes occur in a parking lot or garage.

It is essential to have a readily available communication link between parkers and security officers as more facilities are now unattended. Video intercoms embedded into ticket dispensing and revenue control systems enable a two-way conversation with the hospital security team to resolve equipment problems. Emergency stations placed near pedestrian entries, stairwells and pay stations provide a similar link for distressed patrons. Emergency towers help secure pedestrians walking on pathways between parking facilities and hospital buildings.

Protecting Entries

In the COVID-19 era, not everyone may enter the hospital – at least not as directly as they did just months ago. Hospitals are limiting the number of visitors and checking their body temperatures to limit the spread of the virus. Security officers are locking many ancillary doors and allowing only authorized employees to enter using access control cards or PINs.

Only two doors – those into the main lobby and the emergency department – should remain open to visitors and vendors. The main entry may be locked overnight with video intercoms enabling security to screen visitors before remotely opening the door or directing them to another entrance. Intercoms are frequently added outside entries to departments such as the pharmacy, intensive care and surgical suites to provide a layer of visitor management. The intercoms’ embedded cameras also allow staff to see if visitors are wearing masks and other appropriate personal protective equipment.

Many hospitals are creating locked access points beyond the lobby, keeping visitors and employees from wandering throughout the facility. Authorized staff may present ID badges to card readers for entry. Intercoms enable visitors to contact the security office for continued access.

Vendors must register at the main lobby desk or use a visitor management system kiosk to receive a temporary badge clearly showing where they may go within the hospital. Employees must be trained to challenge people not authorized to be in certain areas.

Video Surveillance

Video cameras provide valuable real-time information when located throughout the campus. Anywhere from the parking garage to main entries, hallways, elevators, and stairwells, cameras can be installed where necessary. Additional cameras can be integrated with video intercoms to provide a broader view of critical entry points. Recorded video helps with after-the-fact forensic investigations.

Hospitals and many other organizations are looking at infrared cameras to spot visitors with elevated body temperatures (EBT), a common symptom of COVID-19. The cameras use thermographic technology to rapidly detect and initiate an alarm when a set temperature is exceeded by 2 degrees. While higher resolution cameras claim accuracy within half a degree, they will return false positive and negative results as it is difficult to focus on one face in a crowd. The cameras work best when trained on a single person.

Securing Patients and Assets

Real-time location systems provide asset tracking. Patients and valuable mobile equipment can be tagged to allow staff to monitor their locations. Wireless RTLS tags emit a wireless radio frequency, infrared, or ultrasound signal that’s picked up by receivers mounted at preset chokepoints. An alarm sounds if a tagged object passes a reader. An object’s position can be determined by triangulating signals. More readers improve the system’s accuracy.

Tagging systems have greatly reduced infant abductions in hospitals. Tags also work well with patients prone to wandering by allowing them to access common areas while remaining protected from walking into dangerous areas. Often, equipment such as an X-ray device is misplaced. Tags may be configured to trigger an alarm if equipment is removed from a specific floor or department.

Nurse call systems enable patients to gain assistance by pushing a button or pulling a cord. These systems add health and safety to security while providing data to help optimize staffing, measure response times, and more.

Portable biometric readers are also gaining favor as a way of verifying patient identity. Handheld readers match a patient’s iris or facial patterns with a template stored on a chip in an ID bracelet. These systems help ensure a patient is receiving the correct drugs and treatments. Contactless iris and facial biometric systems also do not pass along diseases such as COVID-19.

The Emergency Department

Emergency departments (ED) are often dangerous places for medical professionals. A 2018 survey found more than 70 percent of nurses and nearly 50 percent of physicians have been hit or kicked while treating ED patients.1

While the ED lobby door must remain open, entries to the triage and treatment areas should remain locked. A receptionist, located behind bullet-proof glass, can press a button to electronically open doors.

Metal detectors, stationed at the entry and operated by a security officer, help keep weapons out of the ED. Security officers can monitor surveillance cameras aimed at the entrance and the lobby for a realtime view. Intercoms foster communication between staff and security.

Due to the potential for ED violence, best practices call for adding panic buttons to staff badges. Pressing the button signals to the access control system that informs security, initiates a lockdown and alerts other staff members.

The challenges of securing a hospital continue to change as patient expectations evolve, staffs continue to grow, and treatment systems become more complex and expensive. Also, there are unexpected events such as the COVID-19 pandemic that place added burdens on security directors. Security professionals must use their experience and available tools to create a safe and secure environment for patients, employees, and visitors.

This article originally appeared in the July / August 2020 issue of Security Today.

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